The internet is a remarkable thing. Now, I know that in the darker corners of the online world there are things that are unsavory to those professing Christ. But, all in all, the internet has made an undeniable and beneficial mark on our lives. Unless you want to set out for open wilderness, there are very few places that you can go and very few things you can do where the internet isn’t somehow involved, either directly or indirectly.
Just as abundant and inescapable are people who scour the internet looking for any opportunity to tear down and insult their fellow man and his ideas. In internet lingo these people are known simply as trolls. And, again, they’re everywhere. Its worth noting that while they are everywhere, they seem to congregate in the comments sections of any website you can find. It doesn’t matter what the content of the website might be. If there is a comment section, the trolls will be there in droves with their unkind, rude, disrespectful, comments. Trolls can find something wrong with anything, and they do everything they can to make sure you know about their negative opinions. Unfortunately, trolls are beginning to leave their normal hunting grounds and can now be found in the real world, even in a congregation of the Lord’s people.
I recently looked up articles about internet trolls. I found one that caught my eye entitled “The Most Telling Characteristics of a Social Media Troll.” Surprisingly, there are several noticeable parallels between internet trolls and congregational trolls. Using the article’s main points, let’s look at a few of the similarities.
• ACT OVERLY CRITICAL: You join a chat and your only contribution to the collective discourse is to criticize comments, opinions or people. This seems to be a trait that is easily seen in the congregational troll. Some Christians seem to find comfort in pointing out the hypocrisies and wrongs in the lives or worship of others. However, as Christians, we are commanded to build up others in our lives instead of tearing them down with negativity. In the English Standard Version, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reads, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
• ARGUE AD NAUSEAM: You continue to argue a point well beyond any educational value for you or the audience to the point where your comments are simply repetitive rhetoric.Some people love the sound of their own voice when discussing differing opinions. They talk and talk as if logic will take a backseat to an avalanche of words. Again, the Bible gives us advice for speaking with others, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;” (Jas. 1:19).
• WAGE ATTACKS: You post personal attacks on someone’s character, family, job etc. instead of respectfully discussing the point at hand.There is a latin phrase for this kind of tactic: The Ad Hominem attack. Ad Hominem means “against the man.” The congregational troll finds ad hominem attacks very useful, but its nothing more than a distraction from the facts at hand. Its simply an attempt to remove the audiences thoughts from the present facts of a disagreement and place them upon the character of the presenter. Its also a direct violation of Philippians 2:3, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
• PRESENT OPINIONS AS FACTS: You fervently argue subjects in which you have no real experience or subject matter expertise, yet present your point of view as fact.How often do discussions about religion and the Bible begin with the phrase “I think” or “I feel”? The answer is an undeniable, “Far too often.” In the arena of theological thought, phrases such as this have zero value. John 12:48 reads, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” Simply put, if its the words of Christ that will judge us, what we think or feel about any subject doesn’t matter.
• LOVE TO BEAT A DEAD HORSE: You introduce topics you love to hate-on even when no one else is discussing them or when it’s not part of the group’s discussion topic, simply to fuel your need to criticize.People have hobby subjects when it comes to the Bible. Hobby subjects are subjects we are acutely interested in or have more comfort discussing. However, a problem arises when we keep trying to turn every subject into our hobby subject. Bible classes get derailed by those that inject their own agendas into the discussion. Bible class teachers can become discouraged by not being able to use the material they’ve spent hours preparing. Moreover, students can get frustrated in not being able to grow spiritually because the class can’t seem to move past the same subjects.
What can we do about the plague of a congregational troll? We can first make sure we are not guilty of such behavior. If so, its time to remove the plank from our eye. When others are trolling, we can also use the same advice one might find on the internet. Don’t feed the trolls. They eventually get hungry and go find other places to continue their trolling ways.